Tag Archives: Enduring Threads

Enduring Threads: part 10

Paternal Relations

Grandfather Roberts would come to stay with us once or twice a year. He, too, was a short man, like Grandpa Harry, but Grandfather K was very strong. He would cut the hedge, right up until just before he died, in his eighties.

Uncle Hong and Auntie Alex came to stay when she taught me ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, so I must have been very young. As she bathed Clive and me, she’d say, ‘Let’s take those potatoes out of your ears.’ I thought of Alex as exotic as she spoke English and  French. They lived on a cocoa plantation in New Guinea, and later adopted two children, Anne and Timothy.

Staying at the Sadler’s farmhouse with five cousins was fun. We played in their beautiful

Cousins: Ruth, Duncan, John, Margie and Helen  Sadler

Cousins: Ruth, Duncan, John, Margie and Helen

garden and the extensive orchard. At that time ‘Alandale’ was a dairy farm. When their son, John, took over, he diversified into vegetables and flowers.


Helen and I were the same age, and so we linked up again in later years when we were at boarding school together. Bringing the cows in, we’d chatter as we avoided the fresh cowpats. I found the rhythm of life on the farm even slower than our life in town.

Helen and Barbara in BHS school uniform

Helen and Barbara in BHS school uniform

Uncle Loch and Auntie Judy Fran lived at ‘Currajong’, with a creek meandering through the property. They had five boys and one girl. Penny was one year older than me, and she also went to Broadland House School as a boarder. I sat beside her at table in my first year. She and Helen both went on to do nursing at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, after finishing school.

At ‘Robin Hill’, Uncle Barney and Auntie Jean’s children were a little younger than me. They had three boys and one girl, Jill. Theirs was a dairy farm, plus pigs. The white wisteria over the front veranda was thick and lush. The baby grand piano in the lounge room gave it elegance. The warmth of their hospitality was captured by the smell of Auntie Jean’s bread wafting through the house. Barney wrote poetry and stories and in later years he let Bruce and Max take over the farm, so that he could write full-time. Bruce is also a poet. The eldest, Rod, became an economist and joined my brother, Clive, as one of his partners in buying Waterhouse Island, the only privately owned island off Tasmania.

In their retirement, Barney and Jean built a rustic cottage with timber from the property, where Barney and Jean both wrote in their book-lined cosiness, dispersed with paintings. I loved going there to visit them in their idyllic setting on the hillside with platypuses in the nearby creek. Instead of saying, ‘Come and see my etchings.’ Barney would say,

‘Come and see if we can see a platypus.’

Barney had the same initials as me, B.K.Roberts, and once I knitted a tie that was ridiculously short. I sent it packaged with my name, on the back and Jean thought Barney must have another wife somewhere.

Barney and Jean both died on the farm and were buried on the property in a place that they chose to be together. They were an inspiration to me in their contentment. Throwing daffodils onto the grave has etched a lovely memory.


Enduring Threads: part 8

Family Christmases

Magnificent Christmas days were spent with my maternal grandparents. The gatherings began with four generations.

One year I counted twenty-eight at the dining table. The miracle was where did all the food come from? The oven wasn’t huge, but like ‘The Magic Pudding’ there was always plenty of delicious food for everyone. Roast turkey, ham, and crunchy baked vegetables with freshly shelled peas from the garden. Raspberries and strawberries also from the garden, plus plum pudding with threepences and sixpences hidden in it, with an abundance of cream and home made ice cream. Uncle John R-T always had the parson’s nose, and he always made a fuss about getting a coin in his pudding, although, on occasions he swallowed the one my grandmother strategically put into his piece.

X'mas at 6 Ronald Street

X’mas at 6 Ronald Street


‘Washing up time children, and remember, …( the usual refrain), the water has to be very hot! Start with the glasses and they must be left upright after drying them, until they cool, before putting them away!’ We children washed up with excited anticipation. Decorating the tree outside followed, before Uncle Henry brought out the movie camera and presents were opened. We didn’t receive presents from everyone, nor were they expected. It’s hard to think of my mother being young, but together with her sister Mary, on film, they are flaunting their new, almost strapless, flared skirted sundresses, looking very young, playing up to the camera.


Brenda and Mary (Mother and Aunt) Christmas in the 1950s

Brenda and Mary
(Mother and Aunt)
Christmas in the 1950s

The regular visitors who came for Christmas afternoon tea were Grandma’s brother, Hector McFie, (the politician), his second wife, Toni, and their daughter Helen. Great Uncle Hector was viewed with disapproval after Nana and Papa’s deaths due to his rapacious dealings with the will. This was something that was only spoken of in hushed tones, so the children wouldn’t hear.


The Wells from Latrobe would drop in, as well as the Jennings and Volprechts. The tins of sweets the Jennings family gave us each year were always appreciated. Auntie Mynie’s single friends would often be there. Voluminous forms filled the circle of fold up director’s chairs on the lawn. Uncle Percy’s permanently bent fingers didn’t stop him holding a cigarette. Henry’s films show the ‘Greats’ gradually diminishing in number, and eventually Christmas days moved to 29 Victoria Parade, where my mother presided over the cake-cutting ceremony. My grandmother was caught on film cutting the cake for three consecutive years wearing the same dress. My mother decided she wouldn’t make this mistake.

X'mas afternoon, 6 Ronald Street

X’mas afternoon,
6 Ronald Street


Miss Jean Nichols, a spinster neighbour took Miss Benjafield’s place, after she had died. I’m sure Jean was in love with my mother, but Brenda just pretended otherwise and allowed her to be part of the family.


On 2nd November 1957 Auntie Mary married Bob Gott, and later their three children, Timothy, Robert and Susan, had their own Christmas dinners at Steele Street. This meant alternating afternoon teas between Victoria Parade and Steele Street, which lessened the burden of the main meal with the growing numbers.

My father was never very excited about Christmas. One year we went along to St Columba’s Presbyterian Church; my parents with their five children sat in their usual pew, quite close to the front of the church. My father only attended annually under sufferance to please my mother. On the way out, the minister said, ‘And who are you?’                                                      My father answered, ‘Give you three guesses!’ and walked on.

Another Christmas on the way home from Ronald Street, we stopped at the Pyetts’ home. Dad and Eric went off to inspect the bees that Dad had given Eric. Dad had become allergic to their stings. That day he received five stings on the head. We rushed home, Mum driving and Dad seeing double. On arrival, Dad passed out in the passage and Mum couldn’t get a pulse. I rang Doctor Endelmanis, who came down. Mum had told me not to bother him on Christmas Day, but I thought it was more serious than that. By the time the doctor arrived, Dad had vomited, so we knew he was alive. Doctor Endelmanis asked me to make really strong coffee. We didn’t have proper coffee in those days; so I made a brew with lots of powdered coffee. Doctor Endelmanis stayed for two hours to see that Dad would survive. How we appreciated him giving up so much of his time on Christmas day.



Enduring Threads: Part 6

Melbourne Gardens

Melbourne Gardens

Childhood Pleasures

Two trips were made to Melbourne, the first when I was 3. We stayed with Ruth Meek, and all I remember was being sick with measles, so spent my time in bed, combing teddy’s hair. The iceman came, that impressed me, as we didn’t have an iceman in Tasmania. We were lucky enough to have a fridge.

Barbara and Helen Captain Cook's Cottage, Melbourne

Barbara and Helen Captain Cook’s Cottage, Melbourne

The second flight at 7, I sat beside Christopher Pyett on the plane,  we watched the wings shake, as our mother’s chatted together. Chris was on his way to Sydney to visit his Grandparents. I was going over to the dentist. We stayed at the Windsor Hotel with my cousin Helen and her mother, Auntie Judy. We were taken to the zoo and to visit Captain Cook’s cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens. Breakfast was our biggest treat, Helen and I, alone, went to the dining room where we thought we could order what we liked; we were soon informed of the restrictions. My eyes, as usual, were bigger than my tummy. The sausages were fat and filling. Afterwards, we had a race in the lifts, here again, to be reprimanded. ‘Lifts are not play things!’

 The family holiday we had when Graeme was a baby remains vivid, as family holidays were rare. We went to the Marrawah Hotel to stay whilst my father went walking on the West Coast of Tasmania for a week, starting at the Arthur River. We took him to the punt to cross the river and got bogged in the sand on the way back to Marrawah. Grandma stayed with us and read Little Black Sambo and other books to us each night. As we were the only people staying at the hotel, the owners were very friendly; they would bring us red cordial when we couldn’t sleep at night. (That would be frowned upon today!) They served seafood, crayfish mornay and scallops, which Clive and I enjoyed; only later both of us became allergic to crustaceans. The days were spent at the beach playing, the trees protecting us from the westerly wind. The North West corner of Tasmania is isolated, but an ideal family holiday location.



The forties and fifties allowed children so much freedom. We were allowed to wander on the parade under the old pine trees with their swollen, rough, cobwebby trunks without parental supervision. The fine needles softened the ground underfoot and we would gladly collect the cones as they dropped, to take home to burn on the open fire. It was captivating when the sea was rough and the king- tide brought the water right up over the path. The force of the elements entranced me without being scared of the inherent dangers.

A stranger came along and asked me to show him the way to the Bluff. I just said, ‘Follow the path and you’ll find it.’ Perhaps there were paedophiles, but we were expected to use our common sense, and luck prevailed.

We could climb trees and make cubbies. The boys played a lot of cricket. In the summer there was a natural swimming hole where we’d swim. My mother did come when we were swimming. Collecting shells and odd shaped stones was a constant activity. I’d put them in a box under my bed, and they would disappear, nothing would be said and I’d go and collect another lot.










Enduring Threads: part 5

Childhood Memories

As a child, everything seemed bigger. The cherry plum trees seemed enormous. When my brother Clive was mean to me; I’d go into the house and put on a Fair Isle beret and come out assuming he’d think I was a different person. I’d meet him under the plum tree expecting him to be nice to me again because I was someone else. Sometimes it worked.

Clive and Barbara

Clive and Barbara

Nigel was born on 15th September 1953; I then went to stay with my best friend Penny Russell’s family at the Harbour Master’s residence. They had three girls who welcomed me and made me feel, at seven, part of the female fraternity. (That doesn’t translate to the feminine, maternity). My eyes were opened seeing them groom themselves; eyebrows being plucked, something I’d never seen before.

Unfortunately, my mother had forced me to have my plaits cut before Nigel’s birth. She had chased me around the house the night before and given up, but the next morning she’d just chopped off each plait. My front tooth, that I’d knocked out when I was two, had regrown without enamel. After the freshly enamelled tooth treatment, at great cost, it was knocked out again, playing on a broomstick. Looks were never something I felt confident about. Myrtle Russell tried valiantly to give me confidence, telling me I had beautiful eyes. No one in our family believed in giving compliments to children.

Penny listened to 7AD (the local radio station) and there was a popular song at that time, ‘How much is that doggy in the window,’ which we all sang with great gusto in the girl’s bedroom. I loved learning this song, as we didn’t have 7AD at our house. Penny was much more worldly than me because she went to the cinema, or as we called it, the pictures, every Saturday afternoon. I had seen about two movies before I started High School. ‘Snow White’ was the first. I was lost when Penny talked about film stars, trying to soak up what she told me. My Mother wasn’t one for wasting money on magazines. Though she did break this rule after the Royal visit, so that I could make a scrapbook for school. This was a large hard covered folder with brown paper pages, devotedly completed using the home- made flour and water glue to stick the latest photos and decals of the Royal family.

Penny and I both collected swap cards. Our mothers played cards and so we were off to a good start, as we collected the jokers that were not needed in the packs. I was fortunate, too, because Auntie Mary gave me her swap cards. The older cards had gilt edges, some were textured, or had gold and silver added to their designs. The new Coles swap cards had many sets, but didn’t compare to the older cards. So when one had doubles, one could get several Coles cards for one older style, if it was in good condition.

I was upset, when my father picked me up to take me to tell my great-grandparents that my third brother was born, as I had hoped for a sister.

Mother’s two weeks rest at Meercroft Cottage Hospital was the norm after a baby was born. There she had double doors that opened to the outside, so that we could visit her. Children were not allowed inside, so we crept in very quietly.

Clive, Barbara, baby Nigel and Graeme

Clive, Barbara, baby Nigel and Graeme

At 2, Nigel’s blonde curly hair was quite angelic. He was soon climbing into my bed in the early mornings to snuggle up. I remember the warmth, and then the bed would go cold – wet. I did love having another brother.



Our father would always get up first to put on the porridge. It was quite a tradition that he used ‘chicken feed’ and oats soaked overnight. My mother would bathe, as breakfast was well underway.

When I became a little older, I decided I hated porridge, and vomiting back into the bowl  proved to be the only way I could convince my parents that I no longer needed it. They then accepted this. Dad would often have eggs and bacon after his porridge, then toast and tea before pedalling off to work on his bike. We would all have eggs at the weekends; having chooks, eggs were plentiful. Tea replaced milk to drink, and I enjoyed toast; the homemade grapefruit marmalade made me sneeze repeatedly, every morning.

Building our bonfires in the May holidays for Empire Day 24th May was another tradition. Victoria Parade at that time was not manicured as it is today. We’d drag home dead branches from the whole neighbourhood to the empty block of land opposite. Old tyres were kept until last in case another gang burnt our bonfire down before the night. Eventually we invited the Stone twins, the rivals, to share our bonfire, to save it from destruction. My mother made red toffee apples for everyone in the neighbourhood on bonfire night.

The year Angus was born, we organized the bonfire a night early. Pregnant Mum, after distributing the toffee apples, had another tray for everyone to put their crackers on so that they could be dispensed throughout the evening. Unfortunately, someone put a live cracker on the tray, and my mother dropped the lot as they all began to explode. Flowerpots and spinning wheels along with the penny bangers all went off at once.

This set off her labour. Angus was born early next morning, on 24th May 1956. What a cracker of a baby he was.

This time, my mother had organized a housekeeper to come in and look after us all. She was called Mrs. Roberts, no relation. Immediately taking charge, ‘I don’t need any help from you, I’ll find things myself.’ I felt very put out, as my mother had asked me to help her. When we came home from school, ‘Here’s a biscuit and drink. Now, stay outside and play, I’ve just cleaned the floor!’ her pommy voice resounded. The meals were dreadful. One in particular stands out: boiled vegetables and meat surrounded by watery, fatty soup. It was neither soup nor a ‘proper’ meal, as we knew it. Even our unfussy father was perplexed, but diplomatically said nothing. We were all relieved and delighted to have Mum home two weeks later with little Angus.

Penny Russell, Jill Brooke, Barbara Roberts at a fancy dress party.

Penny Russell, Jill Brooke, Barbara Roberts at a fancy dress party.

Penny Russell and I would play for hours after school and holidays, mostly outdoors. One play space was in the outside laundry with the copper. This was before my father built the playhouse around the plum tree, which had white-framed windows on two sides and a door at the front, the whole house was painted in sump oil. At this time I asked my mother, ‘Why do girls marry boys?’ I thought Penny and I would be quite content to live together as adults. My mother wisely said, ‘Just you wait and see.’

Nigel had invisible friends.                                                                                                           ‘Mum, stop the car!’ Nigel would cry,                                                                                            ‘Stop! Santa and Robber have been left behind.’                                                                   Stopping, opening the front gate to let them out, before putting them into the car was a regular ritual. Nigel’s best friend was Sandy Budge. We would listen to them talk about their future. ‘When we get married, we won’t go to Holland for our honeymoon because we don’t want any Dutch babies.’ They must have fallen out with their Dutch friend at that time.

Graeme’s inventiveness didn’t lead him to become a scientist as we expected, with his



pottering about making experiments in the outside laundry. One Christmas, I unwrapped a soap shaker for washing up, consisting of old bits of wire and some velvet soap encompassed by mesh he’d scrounged. I was thrilled, as we children didn’t give each other presents, so this made it very special.

Besides Penny, I played with closer neighbours, Elspeth McIntyre and occasionally Valery Gray, though she was a year older. Elspeth and I hid in the broom cupboard as Mrs. Gray complained, ‘Those girls are being mean to my Wallie.’

My mother remonstrated, ‘I don’t get involved in the children’s scuffles. I’m sure they will sort things out for themselves.’ Mrs. Gray left feeling thwarted. We crept out of the broom cupboard when they had gone to the back door feeling elated. I was proud of my Mum for standing up to scary Mrs. Gray. Elspeth and I would always run on our way past the Grays because she would sometimes shout and swear at us. Her behaviour was bewildering; in retrospect, was she was menopausal?

Not accepting rides with strangers was one of the rules we abided by; even when Tom O’Meara, a close neighbour offered to bring Clive and me home when it was pouring with rain.   He was the local bookmaker. He was a kind man and must have been amused by our reticence. His children went to the Catholic school. In those days there was a division between Catholics and Protestants, though I didn’t understand why. I was fascinated by some of the Catholic paraphernalia, such as little cards of the Virgin Mary and writing in green or purple ink. At our house the ink was either black or blue.

Birthday parties were held and sometimes school friends were invited. Whilst at primary school, my mother made a magnificent birthday cake with a doll in the centre with a decorated skirt of icing.   I was delighted and my Mother was particularly proud of this effort. She also made cone shaped biscuits folded to contain cream and jelly, creampuffs, lamingtons, fairy bread and the table was laden with food.

I seem to remember other people’s birthday parties more than my own. Moments like, the dentist’s son, Stephen, who had been deprived of sugar, picking off all the icing off the cakes and having a wonderful party before being discovered. We saw quite a bit of our cousins that lived in Launceston, as they would come to visit our grandparents.

Graeme, Mary Elizabeth, Clive, Barbara and Peter

Graeme, Mary Elizabeth, Clive, Barbara and Peter

At that time there were no supermarkets. Our general store was the Don Store, where everything was weighed out into paper bags. My mother bought flour and sugar in large sacks. Some people bought their biscuits by the pound, but we always had homemade biscuits. Bought biscuits were considered a treat. Homemade butter was available, and it was always a deep, rich yellow. At the Don Store the money was put in a container that was fired on a wire to an accounts office raised above floor level in the centre of the shop, pulpit-like. Any change was sent back by the same method. Mr. Atkinson with his rounded glasses and large white apron, almost to the floor, wrote pencilled dockets and practised mental arithmetic.


Enduring Threads: Part 4

The Haines family


Chloris, Lillian, Brenda Front: Henry and Mary

My mother, Brenda, was second in a family that had five daughters and one son: Lillian, Brenda, Chloris, Marian, Henry Charles and Mary. Marian died very young and was seldom spoken of.

Brenda, Lillian, Mary, Henry and Chloris

Brenda, Lillian, Mary, Henry and Chloris

In my mother’s childhood, my Grandmother was a shy woman. When someone came to the door, she would tell the children to be quiet and pretend no one was at home. A visitor’s card was dropped through the letterbox in the front door to let them know who had called.

When my mother was two, she fell off a chair and became paralysed. She remained so for a year. The doctor didn’t know what had caused this, writing to International journals about the case. My mother screamed when there was noise, so straw was placed on the unsealed road outside the house to minimalize the noise. Brenda demanded a crystal glass to drink from. In later years Brenda thought that the skull bone must have been pressing against the brain, which gradually shifted, releasing pressure, allowing her to learn to walk again.

Chloris died at the age of twenty-one in Melbourne whilst she was completing her studies to be a pharmacist. She was thrown from a horse. The Devonport police rang my grandparents and asked them to come to the police station to be told the news. Henry heard the news when the Melbourne undertaker’s rang him at home, and so went to pick his parents up, knowing that they would be in no fit state to drive home. Recently, my cousin, Peter, found a newspaper cutting about Grandpa donating a wing to the maternity hospital at Meercroft named the ‘Chloris Haines’ wing’, after this tragic event. No one seems to know of this, nor know what happened to the brass plaque that was mentioned in the newspaper article, as Meercroft is now a large old peoples’ home, totally changed.

6 Ronald Street, Devonport 1940s?

6 Ronald Street, Devonport 1940s?

My grandmother held that pain in her heart, as we discovered in 1969 when we found Chloris’s things, emptying the attic at Ronald Street. There were boxes of new underwear that Chloris hadn’t even worn. My Grandmother moved to live next door to her daughter Mary who lived at 126 Steele Street; a big break with the past.

Chloris Janet Haines (my Grandmother)

Chloris Janet Haines
(my Grandmother)

Grandma wore an apricot-coloured corset that had to be laced up the front. Her body was curvaceous. (I inherited her hump on her upper back, and Auntie Mynie shared this too). Chloris and Mynie’s children missed out on this defect, lucky for them, and were proud of their straight backs. Long white hair was twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck where the clear plastic hairpins attempted to hold the bundle. Black and navy shoes were polished daily, and handbags and gloves had to match the shoes. The array of hats: wide, tall or sometimes snugly fitting, decorated or plain were always eye catching. If only we’d kept them. Osteoarthritis caused her to hobble slowly, leaning from one side to the other using a walking stick. Her swollen knees, ankles and fingers were distorted and must have been very painful, though she never complained, nor believed in taking medication.

The first morning task was to always red-ochre the fireplace before setting the fire. Farting as Grandma painfully knelt was part of the ritual. She also whistled, though denied that she omitted these noises. I pretended that she neither farted nor whistled, unless there were brothers or cousins about to share some giggles. Mornings were not her best time, as she would rather have slept in, preferring to sit up late into the night. Silence was her kingdom, and the radio was seldom used. This was before television. Talking was her entertainment. She made scones for her own aging mother and delivered them daily, till Nana died. The daily paper and the telephone brought any news. Grandma’s annoying habit was to ring at teatime, when Mum was busy preparing tea. Fridays Grandma would arrive with a welcome basket of fruit and chocolate for my mother, as Mum was a chocoholic.

Mr. Harman was the gardener for many decades. Grandma always took out his morning/ afternoon tea in a rainbow coloured jug with the milk and sugar added, accompanied by biscuits/ scones on the tray. It wasn’t until he retired that Grandma found out that he didn’t take sugar in his tea. He’d been drinking it all of those years without saying anything. When he retired Mr. Sharman took his place.

Grandma played contract bridge with her friends. My grandfather would sometimes arrive home before they had left. He’d place one of their hats on his head and embarrass my grandmother by saying,

‘Haven’t you got homes to go to?’                                                                                                     He was always full of fun. Grandpa loved to act (taking the part of a fat woman in the local        Cof E hall performance of a Charles Dickens play) and he also enjoyed singing.                       Bowls and rowing were two of his sporting interests.

When my grandfather was offered a knighthood, he refused, saying,

‘I was born Harry Haines and will die Harry Haines.’

He also hinted that his wife was proud enough, and he couldn’t bear for her to be made Lady Chloris. In those days, she wouldn’t let anyone use her Christian name, apart from a very few, who could be counted on one hand.

One of those was Miss Vera Benjafield. When Miss Benjafield went into hospital, she asked the nurses, ’Where are my teeth?’ They looked high and low to no avail. Finally they found out she hadn’t brought any with her. Such a dear old soul!

 Grandpa visited us often when I was small. He used to take Clive with him on his trips to the Dulverton Brickworks in Railton or to one of his many timber mills. I was not included on these trips, as I was a girl or perhaps considered too young. Once I hit Clive on the head in frustration. My grandfather expounded,

‘You can’t buy a new head at a shop, you have to look after them.’

Harry Haines

Harry Haines

He was a kind man, and ahead of his time. He arranged for his employees to have superannuation when they retired, long before it was law, so that he kept most of his employees for life. In the beginning F.H. Haines P/L did building work as well as selling building materials. Later he realised it wasn’t fair to other builders and so gave up the building side of the business and just kept the timber mills, timber yards and brick works, plus the hardware shop in Best Street down by the railway. The firm had a whistle that went four times a day, letting the whole town know the time of day.

When my grandfather had a fridge delivered to our house, my mother objected, being proud, ‘We can manage,’ and it was six months before she turned it on.

Harry Haines realised that his son Henry didn’t have his heart in the business, so he sold the firm to Kauri Timber Company in November 1951, a fortnight before he died. Henry managed the business for Kauri Timber Co. until June 1956. Then Henry bought the farm ‘Cheverton’ at Deloraine, surprising the farming community by making a great success of it, never having lived on a farm before.

L I H 11

Grandpa suffered from asthma; he wasn’t a strong man and died in December 1951. My mother, 34, cried, something I hadn’t seen her do before. She was devastated. I felt, at aged 5, detached, as I wasn’t close to my grandfather and couldn’t understand why my mother was so upset. Only now, as I learn more about him, am I sorry I didn’t know him better. It was after this that I started going up to Ronald Street to stay. I’d look at Grandpa’s shaving equipment left in the bathroom cabinet and it gave me conflicting feelings of discomfort, intrigue and distaste; a dead person’s things.

When we were a little older we’d play with Grandpa’s billiards upstairs. On the walls at Ronald Street Grandma’s children’s pastel drawings were framed and displayed. I was intrigued by the fact that one of the aunts was dead. This added to my belief that the house was haunted.







Enduring Threads: Part3

Reblog with photos:

The Scottish Greats

My great maternal grandparents, Nanna and Papa McFie lived on top of the world, opposite the boundary to the primary school below, and the Catholic school above, in Stewart Street. Papa had been a tailor before becoming a state politician, which he remained for seventeen years, and a coroner for fifty years. In retirement, before his stroke, he could be seen marching down into town, tipping his bowler to one and all. His distinguishing features being his waxed and twirled moustache, a stiff high white collar and a striped carnation in his buttonhole. Nana, softer, would sit in her sunroom on a cane chair that pulled out so that her legs were raised, knitting, sewing or doing embroidery. Her contented round face would light up with pleasure as we approached, her halo of sparse white hair giving her an angelic look. Their garden rambled unattended with a huge pine tree up the back.

Their little electric fire, imitated a coal fire, glowing red attempting to warm the sitting room. Their frugal existence was suspended on The Red Letter Day when they received a letter from the Queen for their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Celebrations for both the royal missive and their special wedding anniversary broke the feeling of austerity in their home.

Nana and Papa McFie, 50 or 60th wedding anniversary?

Nana and Papa McFie,
50 or 60th wedding anniversary?

Bringing up their own children: Chloris, Hector, Mynie, Malcolm and Don; was succeeded by taking in and caring for Janet, Chloris and Brian, children of their son Don and his ex-wife Dawn; as well as Jock, son of Malcolm. Great Uncle Hector made good, following in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Liberal politician.

I didn’t question my mother when she said,‘The McFie men are no good!’ It wasn’t until my cousin Peter did some family-tree research that my understanding broadened. Hector McFie, our antecedent, came out to Tasmania in 1830 as a convict, aged 25. He was a tailor and subsequently married three times. His death was from ‘Fatal Effects Of Intemperance’ as disclosed in the Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday morning 9 June 1858. This side of our family history was never discussed, as my mother said,

‘I have no interest in the past.’

Considering ancient Hector’s minor misdemeanors, and being forced to leave his home in Rothsay on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, brought about a whole new dynasty on the other side of the world.

Not only was there a repetition of names in these genealogical records, a plethora of Hectors, but also a repetition of career choices: tailoring, seafaring and building, the latter two continuing today.

Taken at Queenstown on the Federal election campaign. Snow fell all the time 2 days, 5 ft in some places. Dame Enid Lyons was the first woman to be elected to the Federal Parliament at Canberra Sept 1943, with H. H. McFie

Taken at Queenstown on the Federal election campaign. Snow fell all the time 2 days, 5 ft in some places. Dame Enid Lyons was the first woman to be elected to the Federal Parliament at Canberra Sept 1943, with H. H. McFie

Hungry children from the state school were fed at Nana’s home during the depression. Vegetable soup was cooked in the copper. My mother would put her hand up to be fed too, but only on the odd occasion would she be allowed to go over the road to her grandmother’s with the others.

‘Look after this and cherish it’, Nanna spoke in her Scots burr as she gave me a little brass dog.  I still have it. ‘It is important to dry between your toes’, was another important message that I continue to pass on.  Visual memories of buckets in the bathroom to collect the rain- water from the leaky roof remain with me as Nanna shrugged her shoulders.  Papa always had sweets for us, often liquorice alsorts. I only liked the liquorice part, stuffing the gooey pastel stuff in hidden places. The twisted clear yellow ambrosial barley sugar was my favourite.

After Nanna died, Papa had a stroke that left him with no speech.

When he recuperated and was on his feet again, we children would torment him, knowing he couldn’t tell our grandmother what we were doing. He’d chase us around waving his walking stick at us, totally frustrated that he couldn’t catch us or speak. Grandma would come out and say,

‘Don’t wave your stick at the children!’

That made us feel guilty and we’d stop our bullying tactics.

Nanna died just before the Queen’s visit in 1954. She’d been so looking forward to the visit, which was celebrated very enthusiastically in Devonport with streamers decorating the way. Even my father was swept up by the hysteria and constructed a stand for friends to gather on to wave their flags. They were sorely disappointed, as the car didn’t slow down sufficiently for them to get a proper look.

Aged eight, dressed as a Brownie, I walked with the whole school to the oval. My classmate Lynette Holman presented the Queen with a bouquet, as Lynette’s father was the Council Clerk. The cortege went up to Bell’s Parade, Latrobe, where they had a toilet especially constructed for Her Royal Highness, in which she was sick. Afterwards the toilet was auctioned.

My maternal great-grandmother, Nanna, was Hannah Elizabeth Chapman before she married Henry Hector McFie in 1892. When I returned to Devonport with my two daughters in 1975 I moved into the Chapman home at 50 Wenvoe Street. The two last Chapman maiden ladies had died; they were cousins of my grandmother. They loved the view of the river and ocean in the distance. Ivy had been a pharmacist at the local chemist shop, and Chappie, as we called her, was a seamstress.

Mynie and Chloris with their mother Hannah, (Nana)

Mynie and Chloris
with their mother Hannah, (Nana)

(Great) Auntie Mynie, my grandmother’s sister, lived up in Hiller Street. She married John Donohue who was the editor of the local newspaper, The Advocate. He had six children when she married him, and they went on to have two more. Jane was nine years older than me, and Hector seven. The other children were grown and gone, though they continued to visit.

Auntie Mynie’s pastries were renown afar for their lightness. When Uncle John died she made ends meet by growing flowers and making and selling wreaths from home.  She also helped with the Scouts’ catering business. It was amazing what Auntie Mynie could produce out of her very old Moffat oven. Sometimes there would be six pavlovas sitting there, waiting to be delivered.

Even though Mynie was fourth generation Tasmanian, her Scottishness was unwavering. She had Scottie dogs on cushion covers, Scottish ornaments, a silver thistle cruet set and Scotch thistles on her dinner set and teacups. She introduced us to peppermint liqueur in lemonade, the fresh bubbling smell of peppermint tickling our noses. Unlike her teatotal sister, my grandmother, she also liked a drop of Scotch whisky.

When I was very young, a quondam story is retold; I broke a bottle of perfume in their bathroom. Auntie Mynie could never wear that scent again, as the smell in the bathroom was overpowering. She loved giving me cheap perfume for birthdays; I’m sure it was payback time for my mother, but I loved it.

Taking our first trip across the Mersey, Auntie Mynie took Clive and me with her own children and Miss Marshall for a picnic to East Devonport beach. We had their liver and white spaniel Nip with us, who was later killed by snakebite.

The house in Hiller Street expanded like a piano accordion, accommodating many and squeezing out contented visitors who exuded Mynie’s warmth, with confirmation of their right place in the world. Playing Solo was a regular activity; she even played with the dreaded dragoness, Engel Holyman, who most people were scared of. Though I didn’t know Engel well, her reputation went before her and I was surprised later to find out that we were distantly related. (Nanna McFie’s mother’s sister married a Holyman.) When Engel ordered wood, Jane related to me later, they told the deliveryman,’Tell them to pay before you drop!’

The Holyman family was known in the aviation industry; they were all keen fliers. When Engel died she wanted her ashes taken up in a plane and scattered. The family dutifully did as requested only to return with the ashes stuck to the wet plane.





Enduring Threads: Part 2

I have been struggling to get it into a logical sequence. All suggestions welcomed. I am getting the M/S ready for an editor. Apologies to those who have read this bit before… Hilary has suggested a family tree, which is a great idea, but will take some working on!

Great Granny Isobella Haines

Great Granny Isobella Haines

Great Granny Haines’ thin shadow fell over me as she stood towering above me in her black dress with the white lace neck- piece at the base of her long scrawny neck. She continued to ignore me. I knew why she wasn’t my mother’s favourite grandmother. Was it that she didn’t like children? I don’t think she favoured my mother as an adult either. Perhaps her aloofness was her self- protection from the outside world, which made her seem superior and, as a consequence, lonely.

Gt. Granny and Gt. Aunt Dolly Haines

Gt. Granny and Gt. Aunt Dolly Haines

Great Granny Isabella lived with my Great Aunt Dolly in a small white weatherboard house at the top of the hill above the town at 70 Wenvoe Street, Devonport. Camellias, roses, lilies, violets, spring bulbs of every sort, hollyhocks and delphiniums filled the garden. The dovecote in the backyard completes the picture outside. Inside, on top of Great Granny’s bedside table, sat a toilet roll and a lolly jar that she seemed reticent to share. Her death in October 1953 at the age of 94 years meant that she’d been a widow for forty years. Her husband, a baker and naval contractor, had died in May 1913, aged 58.

After Granny Haines died, Auntie Dolly lived alone. Dolly’s first love had died in the First World War. Since then there had been a succession of suitors and fiancés. Her generous nature was well known. This is why Grandpa Haines had ensured the house couldn’t be sold, so that she remained with a roof over her head.



Ruby, Dolly’s older sister, then died, which left Ruby’s husband, Percy, vulnerable. Auntie Dolly pestered him until she had convinced him that they should marry and she’d look after him. He reluctantly agreed to marry her. She was seventy- three. He moved down to Wenvoe Street leaving his lovely home at 8 Ronald Street, next door to my maternal grandparents. It seemed Ruby and Percy had compensated for not having children by surrounding themselves with beautiful antiques. Percy’s father had been a sea captain, so he would have brought some of the treasures home from overseas. The garden with its double cherry trees in the front garden, one pink and one white, were spectacular in bloom. A huge tulip tree loomed out the back; their large block shared a fence, like my grandparents, with the high school.

Dolly’s house was small and so the beautiful and the kitsch were thrust together; clutter was a kind word for the chaos. She was determined to have it all. The wooden statue of a man that had stood elegantly in the entrance at 8 Ronald Street now had to compete with a myriad of eclectic objects collected over the years. In those days plastic flowers were a no-no. Dolly had those, plus a blue budgerigar, a green and yellow budgerigar and a cat. She was diabetic and going blind, so she wore a hat inside with a veil to stop any glare, as well as sunglasses. Dust was something she couldn’t see. Poor Percy lasted only six months before dying.

The story of Dolly getting her licence was one we loved to hear repeated, always with great amusement. She tried three times to get her car licence.

Cars were not common, even in my early childhood. My grandparents were probably the first couple on the North West Coast to go on their honeymoon, in 1914, in their own car. Auntie Ruby and Uncle Percy had a dear brown car with a dicky seat at the back. (I didn’t ever see anyone sitting in it). My parents didn’t get a car until I was in primary school. They let their garage to the Pyett family for their cream Austin with the soft roof (whilst they were living at Elimatta Hotel and Eric was building their house up at North Street).

Back to Dolly: on the second attempt of trying for a licence she turned the car over on Hill Street, Hobart, with the policeman in it. He got out and walked back to the police station.

Uncle Henry had spent some time trying to teach her to drive, and one day she entered the family firm, (F.H.Haines Pty. Ltd.), in Devonport and said to Henry,

‘You must come, I’m going to get my licence’,

‘Surely you are not ready yet’!

Dolly answered, ‘That nice policeman, Mr. Rothwell, said he’d take me’.

So off they went. After taking her only around the block, Mr. Rothwell said to Henry, ‘Do you think she should get it’? Henry answered, ‘I guess she’ll improve once she has her licence’,

‘Oh well, I shall leave her in your charge Mr. Haines’. Henry thought to himself, but I won’t be there! She was never a good driver, and people avoided her car when they saw it coming, as they did with my Grandmother and Great Auntie Con (on Dad’s side).

Dolly married her nephew-in-law, Ted Bolton, twenty-five years her junior; she was a ‘cougar’, ahead of her time, she was seventy-six. Her niece had died, and, oh what an opportunity! They did the deed quietly in Latrobe without the family knowing. It seems he was an alcoholic. My mother was grateful he was there to look after Dolly. My Aunt Mary had no time for him at all. Myrtle Russell, a friend of my mother’s, always asked, ‘How are you feeling Brenda’? – As she felt Frank might be next on Dolly’s list.



The lovely large, blue, white and red ochre Asian dish I have was a wedding present from Dolly when Umberto and I married. We put confetti in it, (tulle-covered sugared almonds with our names and the date of our wedding), to be given to each guest, following an Italian superstitious, but pretty ritual of fertility. I always felt honoured to have something from that amazing Aladdin’s Cave, as the rest was left to Ted’s family. What they didn’t want they auctioned off without notifying the family. A big black mark.


Huntie puts me on the spot… a continuation:

To get back to answering M-R’s  (via Huntie) requested questions:


  1. What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am editing a YA story called ‘Angels Behind the Scenes’.

  1. How does my work differ from others of the genre?

This story is probably in the fantasy genre. Throughout my life I have been fascinated by life after death. Death and beyond are topics most adults like to leave alone. Children seem to be far more open and accepting of death. I am writing about death as part of life, leaving any fear behind.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

Starting in my youth, writing was always something I could do without incurring expense. It has also allowed me to express frustrations that could not be spoken about. Burning reams of written rantings, poetry, received letter, diaries and stories before moving to Melbourne in 2000 was quite cathartic.

  1. How does my writing process work?

Allowing my thoughts to flow means that much editing is needed. I get over excited when I complete a story and have let myself down sending off manuscripts before completion. The ideal for me would be to have an agent, to do the difficult part of finding a publisher. My first illustrated children’s book was sent off to 16 publishers. The two most encouraging responses gave me confidence to send them further manuscripts. ‘Lily’s Wish’ was accepted and published in 2011 by New Frontier Publishers in Sydney. Serena Geddes illustrates this book. It is a Christmas story about a child writing to Santa and asking for wings so that she can fly.

As far as my memoir, ‘Enduring Threads’ is concerned, it may never see the light of day.



Friends and Neighbours: another snippet from ‘Enduring Threads’

Friends and Neighbours, (for Penny, Elspeth, Rosemary and Sandy, where ever you might be)

Penny Russell and I were constant childhood companions. Her family, though I didn’t know it at the time, was a split family. Her mother had two girls before marrying David. Later in life, Penny found out she had a brother in England from her father’s previous marriage. David, her father, must have been schizophrenic; he had big mood swings. When Kaye, Penny’s sister, was staying at our house, she’d sit on the gatepost to wave to her father. He’d pass without a glance at her; she was begging for acknowledgement, and he’d ignore her. Her sorrow was palpable. Penny’s sisters left home as soon as they could and moved to Melbourne. Penny always dreamed of moving to the city too, which she did as soon as she could. She lived with my parents for twelve months whilst her parents went overseas and I was at boarding school. My mother could see her potential and offered to pay for her university education. This offer was not accepted.

Angus was remembered at the Russell household due to his urinary contributions to the rain guage. David kept the official records for the rain tally, and Angus’ contributions were not welcomed.

Elspeth, who lived next door, lived in a very different family. Her father was bedridden. Her mother entertained her friend ‘Uncle Bert’ in the next bedroom, and we accepted this as the norm. My mother was aware of the circumstances, as one night some sailors knocked on our door asking for Mrs. McIntyre.

Elspeth would come over for breakfast when her mum wasn’t up.

Once, she went up to the shop where her mum put things on the tab. She bought a large ice-cream block, a family size. It was pink, white and brown, and we consumed it all. Sometimes she’d bring over jelly crystals, and we’d eat them straight out of the packet, hiding behind the greenhouse. When I was sick with mumps, Elspeth used to hop in my window and finish up any food. Mum was amazed that Elspeth didn’t get the mumps till six months later.

Elspeth came to school with me one day; usually she went to the Roman Catholic school next door. When we arrived home, her sister Ruth was crying. Elspeth was supposed to have gone with her sister and mother to Hobart, but instead Mrs. McIntyre had left Ruth at home to look after Elspeth because Elspeth was missing.

One night, when Dad was out at the farm, there was a fire in our backyard. The conversation of our neighbours, Joan and Noel Hammond, who lived behind our house, up the lane, went like this: ‘Joan, Brenda has firemen up her plum tree!’

‘ Noel, get back into bed, you’ve had too much to drink.’

In fact, Noel was right, there were firemen up the plum tree. Mrs. McIntyre entertained the firemen afterwards, and my mother just thought it was a party. It wasn’t until the next morning that she discovered that it was the hot ashes from our Raeburn on our compost heap that had started the fire and burnt down the back fence and our wood-stack.

My Mother and Margaret Pyett played cards with Joan. She had a wonderful sense of humour and always kept everyone on their toes. One fastidious woman who played cards was talking about how she had to keep boiling everything to sterilise it for the baby. Noel came in and suggested, ‘ Why don’t you boil the baby?’

The Hammonds’ outdoor dunny had worn weatherboard walls that backed onto the back lane, and Joan complained, ‘I can see eyes looking at me through the cracks!’ Noel would turn the lights on in his Jaguar to give light to anyone needing to relieve themselves, as there was no electricity out there. Noel tried to repaint the Jaguar with a powder puff, though the job was far too tedious to complete.

Margaret Pyett was another individual who was rather particular and was very fashion-conscious. When she admired Joan’s outfit, Joan said with her smoker’s raucous laugh, ‘I’m wearing Mrs. Webb’s corset!’ Mrs. Webb was older and bigger, so everyone thought this a huge joke, most of all Joan. She worked as a stenographer for the court system and was renowned for her quick and reliable shorthand. If there were a thunderstorm, Joan would be found hiding under the stairs in the cupboard. Everyone, including the police magistrate, would be at her parties, as Joan had such a wicked sense of humour and was popular with everyone.

When they needed the roof painted, Noel paid their son Peter to do the job. Peter paid someone else half of what he’d been paid to do it. Of course, it didn’t get finished. Noel was very proud of Peter’s enterprise. The roof remained half-painted. Rosemary, Peter’s sister, was younger than me, and so our paths didn’t cross much, apart from an occasional birthday party.   Rosemary left Devonport to study music.

Noel moved into the house that my grandfather had built for his parents in Nichol Street years after Joan died. Before he bought it, it had belonged to Dickie Dobbie, the police magistrate and his wife Kitty.

They were famous for turning up at parties without an invitation, saying; ‘We knew you meant to invite us!’

Dr. Budge, the optician, lived nearby. He and his wife had a child late in life called Sandy, ‘my hhhobby’, stuttered Alec Budge. ’ My aaanalogy of mmmixed fffeelings is, seeing my HHHolden utility being driven over the BBBluff by an Englishman. Sssorry Eric (Pyett), III ddon’t mmmean you!’ That is Australian humour, sorry to those Englishmen and my lack of political correctness for including it. That is as it was in the 50s and 60s. Eric chuckled about that for weeks. Alec was a wise man who recommended to my Italian fiancé, ‘let her hhhave hhher wwway 98% of the tttime, and you jjjust ssstick out ffffor the imppportant 2%.’

When he had a puncture with Sandy in the car, he went to the bushes and waited for some nice young man to come and help attractive Sandy. He then appeared, thanking them for their help.


Memoir writing:

Have you ever thought of writing your memoir? It can be such a therapeutic exercise. Putting all of those old memories down on paper spurs other memories, and before you know it you have a book! It can allow you let go of old grievances getting them down on paper. You feel lighter as a consequence.

Writing ‘Enduring Threads’ flowed freely. Some reorganisation happened during the process, getting a few things into a similar time frame. Letting it sit for a few months was worthwhile; as rereading later, one sees how it can be simplified, words removed and other anecdotes added. Removing adverbs is very helpful, plus some adjectives. I found I couldn’t remove many adjectives, as I liked to think they helped paint the scene and keep the atmosphere of the period. Talking to family will of course bring in other perspectives, which may or may  not be useful. It is your perspective, when all said and done!

Every revision helps to refine the work. I like to apply the same ‘rules’ writing my children’s and young adult books. It can help to have rules that bring the writing to life and remove the padding.

As far as having a routine, I’m yet to become more disciplined. When I was much younger I met a Swiss woman whom I really admired. She worked as a psychiatrist in the mornings and as a tapestry weaver in the afternoons.  This provided the balance in her life that she was seeking. My ideal would be to garden half the day and write the other half; with a walk at the end of the day. When I do this it feels the perfect routine for me as a retired person. Lucky, I know, as many of you are working.

I’d love to hear about your routines and rules that you set yourself.genious